Joan of Arc

(1412 – 1431)
By Eugenia TSAPENKO In the long wars between the French and English not even the Black Prince or King Henry V gained such fame as did a young French peasant girl, Joan of Arc. She was born in the little village of Domrémy. Her father had often told her of the sad condition of France, how the country was largely in the possession of England, and how the French king did not dare to be crowned. And so the thought came to be ever in her mind, "How I pity my country!" She brooded over the matter so much that she began to have visions of angels and heard strange voices, which said to her, "Joan, you can deliver the land from the English. Go to the relief of King Charles." At last these strange visions and voices made the young girl believe that she had a mission from God, and she determined to try to save France. When she told her father and mother of her purpose, they tried to persuade her that the visions of angels and the voices telling her of the divine mission were but dreams. The village priest, her young companions, even the governor of the town, all tried to stop her, but it was in vain. Little by little people began to believe in her mission. At last all stopped trying to discourage her and some who were wealthy helped her to make the journey to the town of Chinon , where the French king, Charles the Seventh, was living. When Joan arrived at Chinon, a force of French soldiers was preparing to go to the south of France to relieve the city of Orleans which the English were besieging. King Charles received Joan kindly and listened to what she had to say with deep attention. The girl spoke modestly, but with a calm belief that she was right. "Gracious King," she said, "my name is Joan. God has sent me to deliver France from her enemies. You shall shortly be crowned in the cathedral of Rheims. I am to lead the soldiers you are about to send for the relief of Orleans. So God has directed and under my guidance victory will be theirs." The king and his nobles talked the matter over and finally it was decided to allow Joan to lead an army of about five thousand men against the English at Orleans. When she left Chinon at the head of her soldiers, in April, 1429, she was in her eighteenth year. Mounted on a fine war-horse and clad in white armor from head to foot, she rode along past the cheering multitude. In one hand she carried an ancient sword that she had found near the tomb of a saint, and in the other a

white banner embroidered with lilies. The rough soldiers who were near her left off their oaths and coarse manners, and carefully guarded her. She inspired the whole army with courage and faith as she talked about her visions. When she arrived at the besieged city of Orleans she fearlessly rode round its walls, while the English soldiers looked on in astonishment. She was able to enter Orleans, despite the efforts of the besiegers to prevent her. She aroused the city by her cheerful, confident words and then led her soldiers forth to give battle to the English. Their success was amazing. One after another the English forts were taken. When only the strongest remained and Joan was leading the attacking force, she received a slight wound and was carried out of the battle to be attended by a surgeon. Her soldiers began to retreat. "Wait," she commanded, "eat and drink and rest; for as soon as I recover I will touch the walls with my banner and you shall enter the fort." In a few minutes she mounted her horse again and riding rapidly up to the fort, touched it with her banner. Her soldier almost instantly carried it. The very next day the enemy's troops were forced to withdraw from before the city and the siege was at end. The French soldiers were jubilant at the victory and called Joan the "Maid of Orleans." By this name she is known in history. Her fame spread everywhere, and the English as well as the French thought she had more than human power. She led the French in several other battles, and again and again her troops were victorious. At last the English were driven far to the north of France. Then Charles, urged by Joan, went to Rheims with twelve thousand soldiers, and there, with splendid ceremonies, was crowned king. Joan holding her white banner, stood near Charles during the coronation. When the ceremony was finished, she knelt at his feet and said, "O King, the will of God is done and my mission is over! Let me now go home to my parents." But the king urged her to stay a while longer, as France was not entirely freed from the English. Joan consented, but she said, "I hear the heavenly voices no more and I am afraid." However she took part in an attack upon the army of the Duke of Burgundy, but was taken prisoner by him. For a large sum of money the duke delivered her into the hands of the English, who put her in prison in Rouen. She lay in prison for a year, and finally was charged with sorcery and brought to trial. It was said that she was under the influence of the Evil One. She declared to her judges her innocence of the charge and said, "God has always been my guide in all that I have done. The devil has never had power over me." Her trial was long and tiresome. At its close she was doomed to be burned at the stake.

In the market-place at Rouen the English soldiers fastened her to a stake surrounded by a great pile of fagots. A soldier put into her hands a rough cross, which he had made from a stick that he held. She thanked him and pressed it to her bosom. Then a priest, standing near the stake, read to her the prayers for the dying, and another mounted the fagots and held towards her a crucifix, which she clasped with both hands and kissed. When the cruel flames burst out around her, the noble girl uttered the word "Jesus," and expired. To the present day, Joan of Arc has remained a significant figure in Western civilization. In the words of Stephen Richey, a freelance American researcher and a military historian, who wrote the book Joan of Arc: The Warrior Saint, "She turned what had been a dry dynastic squabble that left the common people unmoved except for their own suffering into a passionately popular war of national liberation." Joan of Arc has been a political symbol in France since the time of Napoleon. Liberals emphasized her humble origins. Early conservatives stressed her support of the monarchy. Later conservatives recalled her nationalism. During World War II, both the Vichy Regime and the French Resistance used her image: Vichy propaganda remembered her campaign against the English. The resistance emphasized her fight against foreign occupation and her origins in the province of Lorraine, which had fallen under Nazi control.

On the left: Statue of Jeanne d'Arc in Paris, France, by Paul Dubois

“The people who came after her in the five centuries since her death tried to make everything of her: demonic fanatic, spiritual mystic, naive and tragically illused tool of the powerful, creator and icon of modern popular nationalism, adored heroine, saint. She insisted, even when threatened with torture and faced with death by fire, that she was guided by voices from God. Voices or no voices, her achievements leave anyone who knows her story shaking his head in amazed wonder.” Stephen Richey

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